Thomas A. Kvamme • For the Mille Lacs County Times
It is reported that 29 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people are 14 years old or younger.
That being said, in the 2013-2014 season, a total of 417,312 shoebox gifts from the United States were scheduled to be delivered to children in India, a country which first received the gifts in 1998.
Since the initial gifts, 7.85 million children in that country have received a shoebox as a Christmas gift.
Samaritan’s Purse, affiliated with Franklin Graham, oversees the Operation Christmas Child program. This effort includes placing gifts in shoeboxes, packaged for boys and girls ranging in age from 2-14. Gift shoeboxes generally contain small toys, school supplies and hygiene items.
Milaca and the surrounding area had a big hand in making those gift boxes possible through Operation Christmas Child .
Gift boxes from this area were designated for delivery to children in the countries of India, Zambia, Madagascar and Kenya.
Officials from the OCC Upper Midwest Regional staff in Minneapolis considered this to be a “historic collection season and amazing year.”
Church is host
For the sixth year, the Milaca Evangelical Free Church served as the host area relay center.
Shoeboxes were dropped off at the church up until the final week of November, with a record total of more than 900 boxes being accounted for in Milaca, according to collection officials.
Donna and Delbert Pearson served in their first year as co-chairs for the local effort, while Suzy and Mike Swedin headed up the collection for the five previous years. Gerri Gilbert is also credited with assisting in previous years.
Having completed five years as a relay center, the site will now be in line to receive a recognition plaque at a later date.
Increase in boxes
Donna Pearson pointed to a number of areas for the increase in shoeboxes collected in the area this year.
That included advance press coverage provided by ECM Publishers Inc. along with faithful givers and a few new churches participating.
She noted a group from the Scandia House in Mora also took part, along with individuals accounting for “large amounts of gifts.”
“We would like to thank all the donors, the Milaca Evangelical Free Church for hosting the relay center, the volunteers from the church who helped pack the shoeboxes into cartons, and John and Lynn Fradette for donating the use of their vehicle and trailer to deliver the cartons to the Isanti collection site,” Pearson said.
Among those with a large amount of gifts this year was Jenny Bolduc, of Princeton.
Bolduc, along with her young son, brought 77 shoeboxes to the Milaca drop site for Operation Christmas Child.
Reportedly she did this alone, but she reached out for donations from local businesses and friends to complete the effort.
With her first year of helping with the project, Bolduc said she is excited and looking forward for more ideas to increase her number in 2014.
Jason and Cassandra Ingberg and their two daughters, from Princeton, delivered 80 shoebox gifts to Evangelical Free Church in Milaca for Operation Christmas Child. When the Inbergs arrived, the Evangelical Free Church was just four boxes away from its goal of 787 boxes, the number collected in 2012.
The Ingbergs’ delivery, from children and families at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Princeton, with the donation of 77 boxes from Bolduc put the collection over that goal.
Last of trucks
Boxes collected in Milaca were then taken by trailer to a collection site in Isanti, leading up to finally arriving in Minneapolis.
According to word from the Operation Christmas Child Upper Midwest Regional office, the last of the trucks left the processing center in Minneapolis as more than 715,000 shoebox gifts were sent on a journey to children in those four countries.
Each year individuals who donate are advised as to what locations the gifts will be distributed to.
A note to Donna Pearson from the regional office said: “We are so grateful for you and your tremendous efforts again this year and we eagerly await to share the confirmed final shoebox numbers. God indeed has done ‘immeasurably more’ and proven Himself faithful to all of us in so many ways, hasn’t He?”